Meeting & Workshop with KLP @ CIS, Bangalore, India

klp_mapThe last organisation we have met in Bangalore is the Karnataka Learning Partnership (KLP), an initiative launched in 2007 by the Akshara Foundation, which collects, analyses and visualises data to improve primary education in Karnataka. By browsing its website, users can find a very elaborated map and reports containing information on public primary schools. Position, availability of sanitation facilities, demographic and nutrition statistics are the kind of datasets that are being presented. Among others, public officials are making use of this material for the improvement of the decision-making process. The data comes from various sources: public administration, collaborating organisations and volunteer surveys too. Since these information is also relevant for parents, who most of them don’t have access to online resources, KLP is working on a SMS/phone based methodology for them to access the data. The results have been already proven to be really successful and the future plans include the expansion of the number of districts covered, currently 3. We invite you to watch the following video to experience more about it:

We met Gautam John, Head of KLP, former lawyer who actively works in the educational sector and initiated also Pratham Books, a non-profit publishing house that uses Creative Commons licenses to further distribution, translation and reuse of children’s books.

Together with him, we organised our event at the Centre for Internet and Society, which is a non-profit research organisation in Bangalore that works on numerous relevant issues like freedom of expression, accessibility for persons with disabilities, access to knowledge, intellectual property rights reform and openness; engaging in academic research on digital natives and digital humanities.

frameAn intense open debate characterized our workshop and many of the around twenty participants had ongoing projects to show as example of smart use of data. Most of them are indeed active members of the datameet group, the indian-wide online forum that we have already mentioned in our previous articles. We experienced about projects like theballot.in, a weekly online data publication which presents political facts and figures about the world’s largest democracy by using richly illustrated graphs and charts. Also, we could learn more about the Indian Water Portal, an organisation with a deep understanding on how to use data to improve water management; and even one member of TacticalTech talked about their activities we have recently covered. However, there were attendees who are still working on the initial phase of their projects, in areas such as the fight against sexual harassment or the improvement of waste management at neighbourhood level. Those were specially interested in topics as data collection or how to face challenges like the lack of data or citizen engagement. It was for sure an interesting session!

With this productive event, we put an end to our busy week in Bangalore. We are happy to have met such passionate activists and learned so much from them!

Update: Here you can watch the video of the theoretical part of our presentation. Not complete, apologies for that…

[vimeo]https://vimeo.com/81172590[/vimeo]

Meeting @ KSHIP, Bangalore, India

Our meeting today took place in the central office of KSHIP (Karnataka State Highways Improvement Project), an initiative of the Public Works Department of the Government of Karnataka for improvement of road network of the southern indian state. By creating a special committee called [email protected], the organisation aims to include Open Governance mechanisms in its workflow, thus encouraging citizen’s participation and giving transparency more weight.

DSCF0267We were invited to be part of the second meeting of the committee and were asked to give an input on tools and strategies in the field of Open Data they could adopt to realise their goals. For us, it was really interesting to have an insight on how such a project gets developed in a public organisation from its initial state. Since the project is still in the concept phase, where the basic steps have to be defined, our presentation and the big amount of examples we introduced served as inspiration and reference of what can be done in a later phase.

DSCF0273Our participation in this meeting wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Sridhar Pabbisetty, one of the contacts we established in the indian IT-Metropolis. With a background in Computer Science and a MBA at IIM Bangalore, Sridhar is one of the most active individuals pushing Open Government initiatives and the constructive use of Open Data in India.

His activities in the field are numerous. First, he conducted the creation of opengovernanceindia.org, the first Open Data platform in India which was launched just one week before the one from the national government. Besides participating in worldwide events as the OKCon 2012, where he held a lightning presentation, he is advising administrations and organisations about the benefits of acting towards openness, allowing citizens to be part of the decision-making process and raising consciousness of a sustainable use of resources.

After leading the Center of Public Policy, he took the decision to contest for the Hebbal Assembly constituency in the Karnataka Assembly Elections (MLA) in spring 2013 obtaining encouraging results. Parallel to all of this, he initiated the Center for Inclusive Governance, a team of people that “strives to enable citizens to lead the change they want to see, helping them to understand the legal, bureaucratic, political and civil society perspectives.”. We are happy to have met such an remarkable activist today and wish him all the best for his future projects.

Bangalore has proven to be a very productive environment for our research. Next Monday, we still have our workshop at the Center of Internet and Society and look forward to discovering even more!

Meeting @ Tactical Tech, Bangalore, India

imagesTacticalTechnology Collective is the first organisation we have met as part of this intense week in Bangalore, the indian IT-Metropolis. Tactical Tech is both a dutch NGO and a registered studio company. In the beginning, the members of the organisation worked as a worldwide network of individuals, in the last years the structure has being strengthened and soon they will settle their main office in Berlin.

TacticalTech provides expertise and Know-How to NGOs, activists and rights advocates working on corruption, transparency, human rights and a long list of other relevant issues. After spending time together and analysing their needs, Tactical Tech helps them use safely and effectively digital tools and work with data visualisation for campaigning, communication and awareness making.

Besides this, the Berlin/India based NGO is sharing all this knowledge by generating a large number of contents which are available in form of films, toolkits, guides, trainings and events.

A very elaborated multimedia output

DSCF0215First, we have these wonderfully designed books and toolkits which contains guides and essential information around topics like creating and running a NGO (ngo-in-a-box, a collection of essential Open Source tools for running a small-to-medium NGO that has become a piece of cult), mobile advocacy (mobiles-in-a-box, 2008) and making media with impact (message-in-a-box, 2008). Although their work consists on analysing critically how we make use of technology (security-in-a-box), they have not forgotten the importance and effectiveness of the print and visual media. In fact, they have produced and released several movies that complete their online and printed material.

visualising_information_for_advocacy_book_pic_sWe would like to specially remark their last publication (Visualising Information for Advocacy, September 2013) which has been developed out of their experience over the last past ten years and reflects what they have learned about working with information, technology, design and networks in advocacy.

This book contains ideas, strategies and valuable information accompanied with numerous examples and successful worldwide stories that show how information can be used effectively on making awareness, telling stories and exploring issues. We definitely recommend you to get the book in case you are looking for an inspiration source and a-z guide on the topic.

And all of this with a worldwide approach! Most of the products has being translated to several languages and their workshops and trainings take place all over the world. Not to forget, events like the Info-Activism Camp they have organised twice, the last one taking place this year in Italy. This is probably a consequence of the multicultural nature of the collective.

Read, use, and pass on!

One of the reasons we are covering TacticalTech’s activities is that they are real supporters of the principles behind Open Source and Creative Commons. All their works are being released under Creative Commons licenses which allows others to take their contents as a basis for derivative works.

A remarkable proof of this collaborative potential dates back to March 2013, when Tactical Tech met with five organisations in Beirut to brainstorm ways in which their range of info-activism resources could be adapted for use by activists in the Arab region.

The interesting results contained the translation of some of their printed and online contents, the contextualization of some of the strategies in critical environments like the syrian revolution movement or the development of printed versions from existing online resources.

See you in Berlin

We wish the team behind Tactical Tech, specially Maya Indira Ganesh, who kindly received us in their office in Bangalore, a successful future and look forward to meeting them in Berlin once they move in their brand new office.

Interview with Fiona Nielsen, DNAdigest.org, Cambridge, UK

logoRecently, we learned about a project which shows how the principles of Knowledge Sharing can be applied to the scientific domain, specifically to genomics data. DNAdigest is a Not-for-Profit Organisation founded and located in Cambridge, UK, by a group of individuals from diverse backgrounds who all want to see genomics used to its full potential to aid medical research. The objective of DNAdigest is to provide a simple, secure and effective mechanism for sharing genomics data for research without compromising the data privacy of the individual contributors.

fionaFrom the beginning, this concept sounded very appealing to us. That’s why we contacted Fiona Nielsen, founder of this great initiative, to talk about the goals of the project, its approach on making use of such sensitive data and the current status of data sharing within the scientific community.

DNAdigest is still in the development process but already shows a promising future. Not only they have been selected for the Wayra UnLtd accelerator programme for social entrepreneurs, they are also working hard on building a community around the idea, organising events like hack days and workshops. Since, no one can describe the project better than its creator, we invite you to discover more about it through the following sequence of questions and answers.


1) Fiona, could you first introduce yourself and DNAdigest?

I am a bioinformatics scientist turned entrepreneur. I used to work in a biotech company where I was developing tools for interpretation of next-generation sequencing data and I took part in a number of projects where I was doing the data analysis of cancer sequencing samples. During my work, I realised how difficult it is to find and get access to genomics data for research.

DNAdigest was founded as an entity to provide a novel mechanism for sharing of data, aligning the interests of patients and researchers through a data broker mechanism, enabling easy access to anonymised aggregated data.

2) Why it is important to share genomics data? Quoting your website, the current state of sharing this information is embarrassingly limited. How does DNAdigest address this problem?

The human genome is very complex. Made up of 3 billion base pairs and varying from individual from individual, it is equivalent to looking for a needle in a haystack when you as a researcher attempt to nail down the genetic variation that is causing a genetic disease. The only way to narrow your search is by filtering out genetic variation that has been seen before in healthy individuals and annotate the variation that is left by what disease(s) the variation occurs in. This type of comparative analysis requires looking at variants from as many samples as possible. Ideally you will need to compare to tens of thousands of samples to make your comparison approach statistical significance. Accessing thousands of samples today is not only difficult in terms of permissions, but also in terms of mere storage and network capacity it is not practical to download huge datasets for every team that wants to do a comparison. DNAdigest is developing a data broker which will allow the researcher to submit queries for specific variants and only the aggregated information about the selected variants is returned as a result. For example, examining a specific mutation in cancer, the query could be “what is the frequency of this mutation in cancer samples?” and the result would be returned as a frequency, e.g. 3%. The aim of DNAdigest is to reduce the time to discover, access and retrieve the data relevant to genomic comparison.

3) It seems that your idea looks quite revolutionary and actually very needed. How was the reaction of the scientific community towards your initiative so far? Are the principles behind sharing and opening data something new for scientists?

Similar approaches have been suggested and a handful of approaches have been prototyped within the academic community before. However, all of the projects for sharing data in an academic setting have ultimately faced the same problems: They do not have the resources to scale up their solution to work for the entire community, and even if they should have the ambition to scale up the solution, they would find that it is extremely difficult to find funding for infrastructure projects from traditional research funding. In general, there is a positive attitude towards data sharing in research. However, the immediate concerns of researchers revolves around writing papers and not so much towards building common infrastructure.
Based on this knowledge of the community, I realised that a separate entity is needed to take initiative for developing a solution, drawing on the knowledge generated in academia, and building an organisation that can do independent fundraising and collaborate across institutions. We have registered DNAdigest as a charity so that we can function as an independent and trusted third party to provide the community with a feasible solution.

4) What do researchers have to do in order to access genomics data on DNAdigest.org? Can individuals share their genomics information directly on the platform?

We are still designing and developing the platform, so I can not yet give you the exact user guide. Our objective is not to store entire datasets, but to connect to existing data repositories and data management systems with a common API that allows queries into the metadata to select samples, and for the samples for which patient consent is available, to query into the genetic data to provide aggregated statistics collected across datasets.

We have no plans at this point to make storage capacity for individual genomic data, currently for this purpose, an individual would have to find an associated repository, for example through their patient community, which will allow storage of their genomic data.

5) Sharing such private information is a big concern for many people nowadays. How do you approach the privacy issue? What is your solution for this?

Our approach to privacy is to provide anonymization through aggregation. We will provide an API from which it is possible to query for summary statistics over selections of the available data. For example, for a researcher interpreting a specific mutation for a patient with a genetic disease, the associated query for DNAdigest would be “what is the frequency of this mutation for patients with this genetic disease?”. The query could be also be used to look for mutation frequencies in healthy individuals or for patients with related diseases.

6) Which kind of projects could profit from DNAdigest.org?

DNAdigest is still at an early stage and we have a lot of work still to do in designing and implementing the secure query platform. The projects that are most likely to benefit from the resource of data that DNAdigest will make easily accessible are data analysis and interpretation of genetic variants in connection with rare diseases and other genetics research. In the bigger picture, a future of genomic medicine where diagnosis from genome sequencing is commonplace will only be possible if the means for interpretation, namely data access across patient groups and across repositories, becomes available.

7) We read from your blog that DNAdigest.org has been selected for the WAYRA UnLtd Accelerator. Congratulations for that! Do you benefit from other support sources? And, in general, how far are investors supporting social enterprises and non-profit-oriented ideas?

We are very happy that we were selected for the Wayra UnLtd accelerator at this early stage of our project. The accelerator is not just an office space, but a community of startups and business-savvy people helping each other develop sustainable businesses. So far, DNAdigest has been bootstrapping our initiative with volunteer participation and charitable donations.

8) You also have organised a hack day in Cambridge and even workshops, thus building an expanding community. How does DNAdigest.org benefit from this encounters? How are the results so far?

Engaging the community in our project is essential if we want to develop a new mechanism to change the existing culture and structure of data sharing. The stakeholders from academia, industry and patient groups all have very different priorities with regards to sharing of data. Through our hack day, we arrived at more complete understanding of the stakeholder interests and the potential sustainable development models and technical implementation that may be feasible on the short and the long term.

9) As you might know, we are particularly interested in Open Data. By accessing open information, developers are creating apps which are solving certain problems. Is there already any app using open genomics data? If not, how could such an app look like?

Sensitive information like medical records and genetics sequences are unlikely to be released as Open Data, however, the knowledge generated from the data, such as statistics can and should be made both public and easily available for the scientific community to build on. In addition, the metadata describing existing datasets currently residing at research repositories could be made openly available at no risk to privacy. However, a common problem in the research community is that it is difficult to provide incentives for researchers to spend time and effort to register their data in public repositories. Luckily, there is an increasing push from funding agencies to require that data produced with public funding should be made publicly available.

Regarding apps: in the bioinformatics community there are many many tools being developed to analyse proprietary data and many tools are developed to make use of data made openly available through public databases. For two such sources of public data (but not patient data), see the UCSC Genome Browser and the Ensembl Genome Browser.

10) In your opinion, how can the scientific community take profit from Open Data?

It would be ideal if there could be a real shift in research practices that researchers would register the existence of datasets even before publication (ie. Making the metadata Open Data), so that other researchers would have every opportunity to find and identify potential collaborators and sources of data for their research. For sensitive data, such as the genetic information and medical health record details for individual patients, we believe that a common interface is needed to make use of the wealth of data that is being produced today. We propose DNAdigest can provide such an alternative data access by working as the discovery and aggregation mechanism that will let you query across sensitive datasets.

Many thanks!

Read more about DNAdigest and sign up for the newsletter at DNAdigest.org

Meeting & Workshop @ Transparent Chennai, Chennai, India

Bildschirmfoto 2013-10-26 um 21.12.33Transparent Chennai is a project that was started three years ago with the aim to improve the quality of data used for urban governance in Chennai, and present it in ways that help people understand and use the data for planning, monitoring, and for making claims on the government. It is housed in the Centre for Development Finance (CDF), one of three centres for research at IFMR, a business school in Chennai. This small group of researchers, mostly women, does a great job aggregating, creating and disseminating data and research about important civic issues facing the city of Chennai, including those issues facing the poor. Quoting their website: „Our work aims to empower residents by providing them useful, easy-to-understand information that can better highlight citizen needs, shed light on government performance, and improve their lives in the city.“

We met researchers Satyarupa Shekhar and Vinaya Padmanabhan, who explained Transparent Chennai’s ongoing research. In few words, their work consists on researching and collecting data with a focus on: slums and informal settlements, solid waste management, walkability and pedestrian infrastructure, and water and sanitation. A great part of this collected information is accessible in an aggregated form through the interactive map which users can find on their website.

The way they collect this data represents a laborious and passionate task. Depending on the project, they work with local residents or call for volunteers to conduct citizen surveys. They collaborate with other citizens groups and civil society organisations, and work closely with the local administration, which provides them with first-hand data. As you can read on their blog, they work closely with residents and that enables them to develop a better understanding of the problems and actual needs of the population of the city, who is at the end the one who will benefit from the output of their action.

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One successful case is the recent study about the current state and optimal location of public toilets. The results of this research are going to help the municipality to define an efficient strategy for the construction of new sanitation facilities.

Another project that showed the impact of their smart use of data: by conducting surveys, they could map the location of homeless people in different neighbourhoods of Chennai and contrasted it with the position of the existing shelters. Through this research, they could find relevant inconsistencies and propose a better distribution in order to improve the quality of life of this group of less fortunate citizens.

And Open Data? Does Transparenct Chennai release the collected data as open? We obviously formulated this question during our meeting. On the Database Section in their website, you can find some of the data sets they have generated so far. Also, and without leaving the Open Data topic, we experienced that they are participating in the Exploring the Emerging Impacts of Open Data in Developing Countries (ODDC) project. This study, led by the World Wide Web Foundation, has the goal of understanding how open data is being put to use in different countries and contexts across the developing world.

DSCF8971After this enriching exchange, we could present our workshop counting with around 15 attendees from different areas: representant of the region Tamil Nadu, Open Source activists, students, members of research institute and renewable energy initiatives,… From the beginning on, the audience showed a big interest in the data collection methodology and data visualisation tools. Many projects were mentioned during the closing discussion. For example, the results of the national rural employment programme conducted by the indian Ministry of Rural Development, which can be visualised online and downloaded as CSV file since last week only.

Finally, we were asked whether we were going to pass by Bangalore. Indeed, the capital of the Karnataka region is well known in India for being the headquarters of many Open initiatives and the participants pointed us many organisations and individuals we could meet there. For sure! Bangalore was already on our schedule and it seems that we will experience a lot there. We expect to arrive around mid november and will keep you updated!

Meeting & Workshop @ NCR, Delhi, India

Our event in the NCR (National Capital Region) would have never been possible without the support of Satyaakam Goswami. In the last 20 years, Satya has been working actively in the fields of Open Source, Open Hardware, and what we are most interested about, Open Data. As freelance consultant, he has worked with many different organisations and individuals and is the right person when it comes to bring people together. Satya has been involved in a lot of interesting projects recently. The last summer, he has mentored a big group of students as part of the programme “In Pursuit of an Idea”. Co-organised by the National Informatics Centre together with the University of Delhi, this initiative consisted in developing civic apps based on its available datasets. The resulting applications are very impressive considering that these students didn’t have advanced programming skills at the beginning. As Satya expressed, the most important positive output of this experience was the generated know-how among the participants.

Talking with Satya, we get a better overview on the actual status of Open Data in India. Connected through the datameet group initiated three years ago, activists are sharing thoughts, organising regularly meet-ups and supporting Open Culture in all regions of the country. Looking at the different threads, one can notice how dynamic the indian scene is. We had also the opportunity to meet Subhransu Sekhar, one of the developers of data.gov.in. He shared with us a lot of relevant information about the platform which is going to be improved in the new upcoming weeks with new features: regional datasets, SAAS model for cloud storing, API for accessing data and new on-site visualisations. They are not only releasing the code as open source, they also help building similar platforms in Ghana and Rwanda.

DSCF8783Hosted in the new office of Kayako Support Systems Pvt. Ltd. situated in the 16th floor of one of the business buildings in Gurgaon, our workshop gathered developers from the company as well as interested people from various backgrounds. After the usual theoretical and practical part, the open debate contained this time the presentations of a couple of interesting Open Data related projects. First, Isha Parihar introduced us two products the dutch non-profit foundation Akvo has developed: Akvo Flow, a tool for conducting geo-referenced field surveys for international development teams and Akvo Openaid, a web platform for publishing development aid data in a human-friendly format. These and other products have been released as Open Source.

DSCF8806Secondly, again Subhransu Sekhar showed us the Data Visualizer WordPress plugin which can be easily used to generate and integrate data visualisations (graphs, maps, pie charts, …) within the widely used blogging platform. The same technology has been embedded in http://datavisualizer.in/ where the results of the upcoming elections in India will be graphically represented.

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Thanks to the co-organisers and the attendees we get a more detailed insight about the commitment of the indian public administration and the engagement of passionate fellows from the civil society. As national capital, there are a lot of things and projects going on in Delhi, and one day was unfortunately not enough to cover them all. The next workshop is waiting for us on the 26th more than 2000 kilometres down south!

Year of Open Source: Interview with Sam Muirhead, Berlin, Germany

img_webSam Muirhead, filmmaker from New Zealand and based in Berlin, has realised a project we couldn’t miss as part of our research. He decided in August 2012 to make the following experiment for one year: living Open Source in every aspect of his life. From the clothes he wears to the equipment he uses for his work, even his daily transportation, the goal was to avoid traditionally copyrighted products, use products released under open licenses, or adapt and develop his own when he couldn’t find existing ones. All of this in order to investigate how free / libre / open source ideas have spread to areas outside software.

However, within the first month Sam changed the perspective of his project, quote: “I came to the conclusion that living without all-rights-reserved copyright and patents was a much less interesting approach than I expected – you could avoid most patents or copyright simply by not buying new products or media, but you wouldn’t have said anything interesting about open source hardware or free culture”. So, instead of looking for an open alternative in the most various areas thinkable, he focused on documenting on his website ingenious initiatives from creative people he met, as the mate based beer called Mier, and reporting his own attempts, successful or not, to invent new open source products as a 3d-printed programmable camera slider or his parametric underwear line.

The Year of Open Source is now finished and there are plenty of fascinating stories to discover on yearofopensource.net. We could not meet him before leaving Berlin, so he kindly accepted to answer some questions for us via E-Mail. You can find the interview here below and learn more about his project and its outcomes!

1) How did you come up with the idea of living open source for one year? Were you already using open source or was it a radical change?

For a long time I had been very interested in the concept of open source, and done plenty of reading up on the subject (Benkler, Lessig, etc). I was mostly interested in open source hardware like the RepRap project, and digital commons projects like Wikipedia and OpenStreetMap.

But I had no experience working with these projects myself, and I had never used or developed any open hardware. I had no understanding of programming and little interest in software, but now having switched to free software I’ve had to learn (and enjoyed learning!) a lot more about how computers and software work.

Before starting this project basically the only free software programs I was (knowingly) using were OpenOffice and Firefox. I edited video with Final Cut on a Mac, and had a pirated copy of Adobe Creative Suite. I had never tried out open education, never remixed anything from the public domain, and never published anything under a libre license.

The decision to try a ‘Year of Open Source’ came about in a few different ways – for a long time I had felt that my own choices and actions did not fully reflect my ethics and interests. Also the whole theory of peer production and open source development models is usually: the more people contribute and participate, the better the system becomes. I wasn’t participating, I was only watching from the sidelines.

However, I was apprehensive about getting involved in open source, having no technical background, no knowledge of electrical or mechanical engineering or software development. It can seem somewhat daunting from the outside, and I felt there may be many other people in a similar situation to me. So I thought my lack of experience could make me a nice experimental guinea pig. People could follow my progress and see if, or to what extent, open hardware/design ‘democratises production’ – could a complete newbie also start designing and making things, or would it be too complicated? I thought by focusing more on the concepts and processes of open source and how they are applied in different areas, rather than focusing on linux distributions or copyright licenses, I could reach out to another audience than the usual open source crowd.

2) What was your favourite open project you have documented or discovered along this year? Could you choose one?

Maybe I’ll mention some that I haven’t been able to document yet: Premium is a German/Swiss/Austrian collective which started as a ‘fork’ of Afri-Cola – a group of customers who were disappointed with the new product started producing the old cola recipe, and used this product as a way to start hacking the economy around them. Rather than seeing themselves as a separate entity, exerting price pressure on suppliers and customers around them, Premium see those suppliers and customers as part of their ‘company’ and ensure that everyone gets a fair deal. They are a non-profit organisation and have never taken out a loan – yet their sales and market share have been steadily growing for over a decade. They don’t advertise because it’s annoying. They practice total transparency, publishing every transaction on the website, offering an ‘anti-bulk discount’ and publishing their business model and lessons learned as an ‘operating system’ for anyone to replicate. If you want to run your own company along their model, you can call your product ‘Premium’ too, it’s an open brand.

Open Structures is a grid system and a construction set for which parts and products can be designed to fit together in a modular way. By using a set ratio and developing modular parts, you can rearrange parts and pieces easily – it’s like a LEGO kit for EVERYTHING – if you no longer want your kettle, just dismantle the parts and reassemble them as part of your bicycle, garage door, and coffee plunger.

WikiHouse is also an amazing open source architecture initiative – but Alastair explains it much better than I can.

Two of my most-visited sites: I get the music for my videos from the Free Music Archive (CC-BY or CC-BY-SA tracks) and I also love the Public Domain Review!

3) What was the less „predictable“ area of life you found an open source alternative for?

I was surprised that there was not more of a culture of sharing in clothing and fashion – there’s basically no copyright involved in clothing at all (trademarks are a separate issue) and everybody copies everyone else. But it’s not done with intent. You don’t see Prada selling their clothing with digital files for you to make your own copies, but you can very easily – and legally – copy the design simply by tracing the seams of the garment.

Digital manufacturing has yet to make much of an impact in this field. 3D printing and laser cutting in fashion tends to be more gimmicky than practical, and I wanted to find another way to use digital technology to make it easier for people to make their own clothing. So with the help of a talented tailor called Swantje Wendt, who runs a co-sewing space, I learned about how patterns work, how they are graded between sizes, and I used a parametric design tool called Magic Box to create an adjustable boxer short pattern (another friend helped me out with some algebra here). And at OpenTechSchool I got some help in transferring the template to a more suitable format and language. Then I had a very basic software program, a parametric pattern where you type in your waist measurement, and the pattern adjusts to fit. Then you can print out the pattern and sew away. Or, if you’re like me, you need a helpful, patient person like Swantje to teach you how to sew first.

The idea behind this project was to let computers do the not-very-fun job of calculating how to grade a pattern to your own size, which leaves the human free to do what they do best, to think creatively about their clothing, and the material or techniques they want to use to create or personalise it. Unfortunately I haven’t finished documenting this project so it isn’t published yet, but the boxers themselves are very comfortable indeed.

4) Through applications based on Open Data, the interaction between citizens and the city, public administrations, transportation has also changed. Did Open Data play a role in your evolution to an open source life?

Well I had to ride my bike through the winter! I chose not to use public transport for the year (except for 4 unavoidable trips) because the Berlin public transport organisation has been very opposed to releasing open data. In other cities the use of real-time info for transportation has made it much easier and more convenient to use public transport, but in Berlin they’re a bit slow to catch on. With the help of some digital activists, gently herding them towards progress, things seem to be slowly changing, but it will take some time.

However, I enjoyed using and contributing to user-generated open datasets such as OpenStreetMap and also Mundraub.org, which has a city map showing where you can find fruit trees in public spaces. Not only is is a Mundraub a great way to publicise this wonderful common resource, but it’s a wonderful way to explore the nature within your city, and discover streets and parks you might not otherwise encounter.

5) We have read that you taught workshops and participated in conferences. Is it easy, in your experience, to convince people to „switch“ to open source? Open source is like the daily soup for computer scientists. What is your experience on divulging the topic to people without IT background?

I think there are a lot of people who haven’t spent much time trying to understand open source because the moment you mention it, all they hear is COMPUTERSCOMPUTERSCOMPUTERS… So I tend to start with the examples of Wikipedia or Open Source Ecology, or Open Education, to emphasise the sharing of knowledge and information, the logic of re-using other people’s work, and the collaborative process which is often used in the development of these projects. Then I might explain that ‘oh yes, all of this started in the free software community many years ago…’

With software, there are differing levels of completeness. Everyone can, and everyone should use LibreOffice – there’s just no need to shell out for Microsoft Office anymore. But with video editing, it’s a little tricky to win over Adobe and Final Cut users with my personal choice of free software NLE, Kdenlive. It is objectively not as complete or professional as the proprietary options, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do professional work with it.

I completely understand why a video editor might prefer to stick with a proprietary workflow, so rather than push people to change their workflow, I just try to change their perspective of free software NLEs. I usually just lay out the reasons I use Kdenlive: I’m able to contribute to the development of the program, even as a user, by submitting bug reports, posting in the forums etc. The way the program works is much more transparent, I now understand more about how software works I am part of a great community of Kdenlive users on the forums, helping each other out, discussing the program, posting links to our work. Each one of us that uses this software professionally, and does good work with it, does their bit to legitimize the software, and show that it isn’t just a toy. This can in time bring in more users and encourage developers. Through having a presence in the Kdenlive forums I’ve been able to get paid work teaching workshops – with more governments and organisations switching to free software (City of Munich, French Police, etc) there’s a growing market for experienced users of the software to help with training. I have the choice to use proprietary options, but many people simply can’t afford it. By helping to publicise, legitimize and improve software that is available to everybody for free, and helping new users learn it, it gives more people the possibility to use video to tell their own stories, or make a living.

Oh, and Kdenlive respects my freedom and it doesn’t cost me anything.

It’s hard to convince someone to ‘switch’ to Open Hardware because it isn’t anywhere near as widespread or mature as its software equivalent. You can definitely get people excited about it and show them how they can get involved in projects it they like. And if anyone’s in the market for a beehive, an automated greenhouse, or some designer furniture, I’ll definitely provide them with the right links and a few encouraging words.

6) The year is now over. How does it go on now?

Right now, I just have to do paid video jobs for a month or two to get back on my feet financially, I was entirely focused on this project without much income for almost a year – the €5000 crowdfunding support at the start of the year was vital and I’m very grateful for it, the project would have been impossible without it, but it’s not really enough to survive on and pay for materials etc for a whole year, even in Berlin. But I’m also slowly tying up the loose ends of my year – finishing up projects, documenting, and editing together a video which will try to tell the whole story. It won’t be a feature-length epic, more of a highlights reel, with an accompanying written piece. There are a few differences in my life now – I sometimes catch the U-Bahn, and I go see All Rights Reserved films at the movies. But the project is basically continuing in a more relaxed fashion. There was so much more that I wanted to cover over the initial year which I wasn’t able to go into. Developing these little projects takes a very long time, and often depends upon the schedules of friendly helpers and collaborators, and there’s no budget, so the pace is slow.

7) Berlin is for sure one of the cities where open cultures are being supported the most. Which would be other cities or countries also following this trend?

Having just come back from the MakerFaire in Rome I was surprised at the depth and variety of Italian open hardware projects, many of which I had never heard of before. And I think my ignorance is perhaps to do with the tyranny of the English language! In the sites I visit and the media I come across there’s this unfortunate situation where there’s much more emphasis on projects and communities in English-speaking places or projects which document and communicate extensively in English. Luckily through visiting a few conferences and events in different parts of Europe I’ve had the chance to hear from some amazing initiatives in France, Spain, and Finland as well. I know the Netherlands is very big on digital manufacturing and makerspaces, and Barcelona has the Fab City and Smart Citizen projects amongst many others, and there’s support from the civic and Catalonian governments, so they’re on to a good thing. I can keep track of what’s happening in ‘open everything’ in the States pretty well, just from online sources, but I would love to travel to a few more places in Africa and Asia sometime soon – information on what’s happening there is harder to come by. It’s difficult to keep track of this kind of development.

8) We are going to travel along India, South-East Asia, Japan and South America. Could you point out some individuals/organisations promoting open cultures in those countries? We might visit them!

Flavio Soares in Brazil has made a movie with the open source Elphel camera and using/developing free software for post production (website: http://florestavermelha.org/).

Christopher Wang / Akiba is doing wonderful work on open source hardware in Japan (he was part of the team who developed and distributed DIY radiation sensors to villagers after Fukushima, enabling them to collect their own data and contrast it with the official story). I don’t know him, I just like his work! Here an article about him: http://www.examiner.com/article/freaklabs-christopher-wang-a-new-model-of-underground-indie-engineer-part-1

If I think of any more I’ll let you know!

Ushahidi is now supporting Open Steps

logo_300 We are happy to count with a new organisation under the list of our supporters!

For those of you who don’t know it yet, Ushahidi is a non-profit tech company that specializes in developing free and open source software for information collection, visualisation and interactive mapping. They have done a wonderful job creating a tool that contributes to democratise information, increase transparency and lower the barriers for individuals to communicate their stories.

We share the same enthusiasm about the power of Open Cultures and collaborative activism and that’s why we consider their support very relevant for the future of our project.

To read more, please visit our Who we are section.

Meeting & Workshop @ Smt. Hansa Mehta Library, Baroda, India

libraryFounded in 1950 and named after the university’s first chancellor, the Smt. Hansa Mehta Library represents a remarkable example of making knowledge accessible to everyone. Professor Dr. Mayank Trivedi, University librarian since 2010, gave us the opportunity to run our workshop in Baroda (Gujarat state) and to discuss with him about Knowledge Sharing in academic institutions.

trivediLeading a group of 125 staff members, Professor Dr. Trivedi has brought new ideas to the library. On his initiative and launched three months ago, the Open Knowledge Gateway is an internet platform where everyone, not only students of the university, can access a vast amount of educational content for free and in several languages. From Thesis to E-Books, through academic online courses, the daily updated database links the user to valuable information without needing to register or moving away from his desk and serves as a perfect start point for any research work.

The passion and commitment of Dr. Trivedi and his team, who have realised a tremendous effort to put all the information together, has achieved important results. Since its start, the platform has attracted more than 23000 visitors.

During our discussion, we agreed that these online resources should be more present, specially in countries where not everyone has access to traditional education. We could also experience about other interesting projects the library is currently realising. Such as IR, a platform (based on the open source software DSpace) for digitalising and archiving thesis which, among other similar repositories, is integrated in Shodnganga.

ws1Our workshop gathered around 40 participants: students, researchers and part of the library staff, what represents the most attended of our events so far. Interestingly, this time software developers and computer scientists were counted in a small number. However, this fact did not affect the general interest of the audience regarding our technical demonstration on how to visualise open data using cartodb.

ws2Teaching about open data and its visualisation in an academic context has been something new but very enriching for us and the next steps of our project. In a very relaxed atmosphere, we could exchange with the participants about the situation of Open Data in India and the benefits of open cultures, specially in the academic area. Many questions arose related to Open Source software in library science and also about where to find data sources for research purposes.

Although India has been participating in the Open Government Initiative since 2012 and the government has being releasing data on their platform since then, it is relevant to say that the majority of the attendees were not aware of this yet. Actually, the concept of Open Data and the existence of organisations as the OKFN was something new for a great number of participants. This motivates us to keep on divulging these principles. We are still visiting other places in the sub continent and look forward for the upcoming encounters.

Slides of the presentation
Slides of the presentation

Meeting & Workshop @ Webnotes Technologies, Mumbai, India

Our first encounter in India took place in the big city of Mumbai, where we were kindly invited by Web Notes Technologies to pass by their office in the Vidyavihar-West area.

Founded in 2008, the small enterprise consists of a team of young open source enthusiasts and represents one of the few Indian companies developing own open source solutions. Their main product ERPNext.com is a good example of a complete software piece being released as open source with a business model behind, which is fair and makes sense. No surprise that ERPNext.com has been recently listed as one of the top open source applications of 2013 by the magazine InfoWorld.

meetingWhile exchanging about open source and specially about open data, we discovered that they have a couple of great projects coming up soon. First, there is codeformumbai.org which is a platform that makes browsing the datasets available on the Indian open data website more easily and user-friendly. Interestingly, this clever approach was conceived and implemented in less than 24 hours as part of a Hackathon the government organised.

But this tool is just in a very early stage. According to their plans, it will become a more complete solution to address the main problems that most open data platforms are facing today: format standardisation and dataset categorisation. A new upcoming version should participate in the App challenge organised at data.gov.in till the 30th September. Full support for them!

participantsAfter this enriching meeting, we could run our workshop on the spot and were happy to count around 20 people among the audience. While most of them had an IT-background as the previous sessions in Europe, we also gathered various profiles this time, youngsters and seniors, girls and boys, students, executive directors, architects and political activists. Their interest focused particularly in the visualisation part and its technical tools. Many attendees were indeed already working with a certain amount and kind of data, but still searching how to visualise and use it. Our examples in the political area and our data mappings were very inspiring for their work.

erpnextMumbai and north of India are not so much advanced regarding open data initiatives as southern regions, the audience pointed out. Probably one of the reasons why the debate brought rather new ideas and projects being currently developed instead of finished ones. For example, one of the participants is developing a platform which fights human trafficking by helping families to recognize lost children working illegally in the streets of Mumbai. Also, the project Karnakata Election Watch, a platform to report election irregularities in this southern region, was presented and remembered us the similar initiative of za’lart we covered in Albania.

As we experienced, some big steps have been already made. India participates in the Open Government Initiative since 2012 and counts already lots of datasets on its Open Data Platform, mostly about economics, and organises Hackatons and App Challenges to promote their use. Other topics are being covered independently as by the United Nations – DevInfo, so we can state that something is happening in the sub continent regarding Open Data. However, something we would love to see, is its participation in the Open Government Partnership. We believe this can become true soon since India is on the list of the eligible countries 2013 and could apply to take part in this promising initiative.

Our next event will take place in the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, 400km north from Mumbai. After that, we will head south to experience ourselves the differences between indian regions and discover new Open Knowledge related projects there.

Slides of the presentation
Slides of the presentation